‘Taste this, it’s salty’: how rising seas are ruining the Gambia’s rice farmers | Global development

In the sweltering warmth of the late-morning west African solar, Aminata Jamba slashes at golden rice stalks with a sickle. “The rice is beautiful,” she says, music taking part in in the background as her son, Sampa, silently harvests the grain. However even when the high quality is excessive, the amount shouldn’t be.

Whereas as soon as Jamba might have anticipated to reap sufficient rice to final the complete yr, this yr she reckons it’s going to final three to 4 months. After that, she must look elsewhere for a option to feed her household and make sufficient cash to stay.

“Issues are completely different now,” explains Manding Kassamah, a fellow farmer and mom of 9, contemporary in from the rice fields, empty water can in hand. “The rains used to return in a lot. Folks would work and have a great harvest. Now, we work exhausting however we don’t get as a lot rice as we used to.”

Manding Kassamah, a rice farmer in Kerewan
Manding Kassamah, a rice farmer in Kerewan, says the soil started to get saltier about 25 years in the past however the course of has accelerated in the previous decade. {Photograph}: Sylvain Cherkaoui/Guardian

Historically, rice farming in the Gambia has been principally accomplished by ladies, whereas their male counterparts take care of the groundnuts. However for years now the feminine farmers have watched as the land round them turns into more and more troublesome to handle.


Right here in Kerewan, on the north financial institution of the Gambia River, they are battling the local weather disaster on two fronts. Rising sea ranges are pushing saltwater additional and additional alongside the river, which snakes its approach throughout the size of the low-lying nation, and extended dry spells imply much less freshwater to flush out the salinity. The result’s that the water in the fields that used to provide rice is now too salty, and the a lot of the land – greater than 30 hectares (74 acres) – has needed to be deserted. For girls similar to Jamba and Kassamah, that could be a catastrophe.

A farmer,on an expanse of salt
Almamo Fatty, a farmer, exhibits the layer of salt the place there was once a rice discipline. {Photograph}: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

“These ladies are pushed out and so they don’t have many different livelihoods to show to love males,” says Muhammed Ceesay, 27, from the youth-led organisation Activista. “It pushes them into poverty. They are very susceptible.”

The ladies right here are comparatively fortunate, as they do have another supply of meals and revenue in the type of a vegetable backyard. They’ll develop aubergines, tomatoes, peppers and onions, and know that, even when they’ve dwindling rice provides, they may have one thing to promote or eat. “It’s our tomorrow,” says Binta Fatty. “It helps us in so many areas as a result of it helps us keep wholesome and to have the ability to purchase small issues for our kids. That’s why we give attention to the backyard after the rice fields.”

This backup is crucial. Final yr’s rice harvest solely lasted Fatty about six months earlier than she needed to do what in Kerewan would as soon as have been unthinkable: purchase imported rice.

In the previous 10 years, this has develop into the norm throughout the Gambia. “On this neighborhood there was a time when, in the event that they noticed you purchase rice from the store, they’d know there was starvation in your home. Now, it’s the order of the day,” says Almamo Fatty, 63, no shut relation of Binta, though the two joke that they are brother and sister.

“I don’t suppose you will note anybody on this neighborhood [now] who will say: I can farm sufficient rice to feed my household for longer than six months,” he says.

Binta Fatty, rice farmer
Binta Fatty’s rice harvest final yr solely lasted her for six months, whereas it as soon as would have lasted for the yr. {Photograph}: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

His personal isn’t any exception. His son, Kemo Fatty, a local weather activist who was a part of the Gambian delegation to the Cop26 local weather summit, has seen how his mom has develop into regularly much less self-sufficient. “She has to rely on my pay cheque to really purchase rice that comes from China, and this has been taking place for the previous couple of years now,” he says. “Think about, from having our personal rice that we grew and ate all yr spherical to having no rice in any respect.”

The Gambian authorities is aware of extra must be accomplished to guard its farmers from the influence of the local weather disaster: agriculture is the most important sector of the economic system, accounting for a couple of quarter of GDP and using about 75% of the labour pressure.

However, from low technological capability to poor power provides, the challenges for farmers are daunting. Virtually all meals in the nation comes from rain-fed fields, making farmers notably susceptible to modifications in precipitation.

And feminine farmers – who are anticipated to shoulder the burden of caring for his or her households in addition to incomes their preserve, threat home violence as poverty bites, and are typically unable to entry the contraception they should management how many youngsters they need – are arguably the most susceptible of all.


The Gambian local weather activist Fatou Jeng, who was additionally in Glasgow for Cop26, says that though they make up about 70% of the nation’s agricultural workforce, ladies and women “face insufficient entry to fundamental pure sources wanted for farming”.

Writing for the Worldwide Rescue Committee web site, she adds: “There’s a nice injustice at the coronary heart of all of this. All too typically, these under-represented teams, similar to ladies dwelling in fragile states, perceive most about what’s at stake and, subsequently, the options wanted to deal with local weather change. But ladies particularly have been systematically excluded from the decision-making desk.”

In brief, if ladies like Jamba, Kassamah and Fatty are neglected of the local weather disaster resolution, the resolution might by no means be discovered.

Salt held up on the tip of a machete
Almamo Fatty exhibits the salt encrusting what was once prime agricultural land close to Kerewan. {Photograph}: Sylvain Cherkaoui/The Guardian

Standing on the boggy banks of a tributary of the Gambia River, Almamo Fatty gestures to the floor, the clay glowing in the sunshine. “These items you see shining? That’s salt,” he says, shaving off a skinny layer with a machete. “For those who style this, it’s salty.” And it’s.

“Twenty years in the past, should you grew rice right here it might develop like this,” he says, gesturing to his shoulder. One discipline would have produced 20 baggage of rice. Now, there are plans for a dyke to cease the saltwater, however he is aware of life won’t ever return to the approach it was earlier than the local weather disaster arrived. “This land right here, it was all rice fields,” he says. “Now it’s all deserted.”

Extra reporting by Omar Wally

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